It’s been a year since Kobe Bryant tragically passed away at the age of 41, and a year later, it still feels as surreal as ever. The pain Bryant’s death brought to the NBA community and fans around the world lingers till this day and it always will.
But when it comes to the Black Mamba, we remember him for the on-court assassin that he was. For the game-winning buzzer-beaters, the 81-point game vs Toronto, the unmatched work ethic, the five championship rings and much, much more.
What we seldom discuss, however, is how lethal Bryant was in fantasy basketball for an extended period of time.
From 2000-2013, the 15x All-NBA shooting guard averaged no less than 24 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.5 assists a game. In three of those campaigns, Bryant posted over 30 points a night including the 2005-06 season when he poured in over 35 a night, a feat no one had accomplished since Michael Jordan’s 37.1 ppg in 1986-87, and one that no one has accomplished since.
According to Basketball Monster, Bryant was a top-10 player 12 times in eight-category leagues including a couple of No. 1 overall finishes and a trio of No. 2 overall finishes.
He ranked inside the top-20 starting from the 1998-99 season all the way till 2012-13 at which point Kobe was 34-years-old and boasting a ridiculous 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, six assists and 1.4 steals per contest. And people had the audacity to say he was past his prime. Talk about disrespect.
The Mamba defied and extended his prime, much like fellow Los Angeles Laker LeBron James is doing now at age 36. But when Bryant was starting to peak, I’m talking about the three seasons from 2005-08, he was absolutely unstoppable and was undoubtedly carrying fantasy teams each and every week.
Let’s take a look at that 239-game stretch for the future Hall of Famer.
2006 - Career-best scoring average
As previously mentioned, Kobe was on one during his 10th go-around in the league. It was arguably the best season of his career as he destroyed opponents to the tune of 35.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.8 steals. He shot 45% from the floor, 35% from deep with 2.3 makes per contest, also a career-best, and 85% from the line.
For those who play points leagues, imagine getting over 50 fantasy points from one player every single game 3-4x a week. In categories, Bryant finished third in 9-cat that year and second in 8-cat, trailing only Shawn Marion whose defensive stats of two steals and 1.7 blocks in addition to 22 points, 12 rebounds and two assists was quite impressive on its own.
A lot of Bryant’s damage came in January 2006 which is perhaps the single greatest month any player has ever had in NBA history.
For those 31 days, he boasted an unfathomable 43.4 points per game, the second-most in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 45.8 mark in March 1963, per the NBA. The month was highlighted by Bryant’s 81-point outburst on Jan. 22, 2006 in which he shot 28-of-46 from the field, 7-of-13 on 3-pointers and 18-of-20 on free throws. His 81 is preceded only by the Chamberlain guy I just mentioned who scored 100 in a game. Yeah, he was built different.
Believe it or not, however, Kobe kept the craziness going after January, averaging 41.6 points in April on 51% shooting and 41% from 3-point range. He finished that season with 27 40-point games and six 50-point eruptions and he would keep that going the following year.
2007 - The rampage continues
Kobe won the NBA scoring title in 2006 and one year later, he did it again. Over 77 games, he averaged 31.6 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.8 3-pointers. It was the third consecutive season that he attempted at least 10 free throws a night and a big reason why he finished second in 9- and 8-cat leagues again behind the defensive disrupter Marion.
And if you think his January 2006 onslaught was unworldly, his month-long stretch in 2007 from March 16 to April 18 was arguably better. It began with Bryant dropping 65, 50, 60 and 50 in four games, marking the first and only time in NBA history that a player has scored more than 50 points in four consecutive games.
For the entirety of that final playoff push, the Mamba tallied 40.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.5 steals and 0.6 blocks on 47/35/89 shooting splits. He would notch 50 points on three more occasions to cap off another incredible regular season and yes, he got the Lakers to the playoffs with a very subpar roster.
2008 - MVP Season
Somehow, someway, Kobe only won one Most Valuable Player award in his 20 NBA seasons. He should have at least one more on his resume, maybe even two, but that’s an argument for another day.
For now, let’s focus on the year he did capture the elusive award, 2007-08.
The Lakers were coming off a 4-1 first-round playoff exit to Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns. In that series, Bryant racked up 33/5/4/1 per game and Lamar Odom was seemingly the only teammate to produce big numbers with 19 points, 13 rebounds, two assists and 1.2 blocks. No other Laker averaged more than nine points that Bryant and Odom, leading to a short postseason for LA.
The loss left a sour taste in Bryant’s mouth and it put pressure on the front office to get their franchise star a better supporting cast. And it did.
In February 2008, the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for his brother Marc Gasol and other assets. Pau became the Robin to Kobe’s Batman, and the two would lead the team to a 57-25 record, the best in the Western Conference and third-best in the NBA.
It was a major improvement from their 42-40 seventh-place finish the year prior, and Bryant paced the Lakers with 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.8 steals, capturing his first and only NBA Most Valuable Player award.
He finished the season as one of the top-three fantasy players in 9- and 8-cat, and though LAL came up short to the Celtics in the Finals, Kobe won a gold medal with Team USA in the Beijing Olympics that summer. The year after in 2009, he brought the Lakers back to the championship series and this time, they got it done.
Bryant secured his first ring in the post-Shaq era and his first Finals MVP award and in 2010, he did it all over again.
The five-time champion played 20 seasons in the NBA, all with the Lakers, and averaged 25 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists in his career over 1,346 games.
All stats via Basketball-Reference